I have a boundless curiosity about food and am always willing to try something new. In fact, I’m a big believer in trying any new food three times before deciding not to eat it again.
So, I approached bitter melon with eager anticipation. I’d been seeing those green squash-like veggies, covered with bumps and warty protuberances at the Charlotte Regional Farmers Market for many months. I talked to the Asian farmers about how they raised them. I chatted with older Indian women in lovely sarees who told me how they prepared bitter melon in various curries and who assured me that bitter melons were delicious.
I read about the health benefits of bitter melon. (Who besides me didn’t know that bitter melon is used medicinally for controlling Type-2 diabetes, healing a variety of stomach and intestinal disorders, and may even be used in treating everything from cancer to HIV.)
I read about how to temper the bitter taste by removing the seeds, slicing the bitter melon halves into pretty crescent moon slices, sprinkling the bitter melon slices with salt, and letting them stand for 20-30 minutes before rinsing off the salt. (I also read a number of recipes that swore that the salting step was unnecessary but might make the bitter melon a bit more palatable for Western taste buds.)
I searched out intriguing recipes and finally decided to make Pinakbet, a mixed vegetable stew from the Philippines that used eggplant. long beans, okra, onions, tomatoes, garlic, ginger . . . and of course, bitter melon, from my well-loved copy of Madhur Jaffrey’s World of the East Vegetarian Cooking.
Since I loved all of the other ingredients going into my stew, and had made many other recipes from Madhur Jaffrey’s cookbook, I figured how could I possibly go wrong?
I’m dismayed to report that despite my careful salting of the bitter melon and the other fresh and delicious ingredients in my stew, my family and I struggled to eat the bitter melon. I think some vegetables are just not meant for Western tastebuds – no matter how intriguing they may look in the market.
I ate all of the bitter melon in my Pinakbet, but my hubby and son couldn’t stomach more than a few bites. So, I’m violating my own rule in not making bitter melon two more times before deciding that it’s not right for me. (In fact, I’d probably have an outright mutiny at the dinner table if I tried serving bitter melon again – even in a completely different preparation!)
Have you found a vegetable or fruit from another culture that you initially found unpalatable . . . but later learned to love? Please share your experience – I’d love to hear from you!